- "At fifteen, Neku is an ardent fan of graffiti, but far less enthusiastic about forging relationships with other people. When the Reapers' Game throws him into contact with other Players, he has two choices: open up... or get picked off."
- — Game manual description
Neku Sakuraba (桜庭 音操 Sakuraba Neku?) is the main protagonist and playable character of The World Ends with You. Though born and raised in Shibuya, Japan, Neku wakes up one day unable to remember anything about himself except his name. He soon finds that he has been thrust into a contest known as the Reapers' Game, but in overcoming the challenges he is presented with, he discovers a truly wonderful world.
Neku is tall and slender with spiky orange hair and blue eyes. He wears a sleeveless shirt with a funnel-shaped collar and an indigo stripe outlined with gold going down the middle, a yellow sweatband on his left wrist, and white shorts held up by a loose-fitting belt. His shoes are black with an indigo stripe outlined in gold, similar to the style of his shirt. Neku is always seen wearing his signature indigo headphones and having his MP3 player around his neck.
- "All the world needs is me. I got my values... so you can keep yours, all right?"
- — Neku Sakuraba
Neku is introverted and unsociable. Claiming that he "doesn't get people," Neku usually dislikes interacting with others, feeling that friends only drag him down. Neku sees society as an annoyance that forces its values on him, pesters him, and expects him to do things he doesn't want. As such, he admires the designer CAT for their motto, "do what you want, how you want, when you want."
Despite his negativity, Neku is a clever, imaginative and insightful individual. His quick thinking and flexibility aid him tremendously in adapting to the numerous and uncanny challenges presented by the Reapers' Game and his imagination awards him a frightening aptitude for psychs. Additionally, his insights allow him to encourage his partners to be at their best on multiple occasions (albeit using fairly rough vocabulary).
Though he initially alienates his later-to-be friends, Neku slowly softens as the Reapers' Game forces him to listen to everybody around him. He becomes more open and trusting as he gets to know Shiki, Joshua, Beat, Rhyme, and Mr. Hanekoma, among others. By the end of his time in the Underground, Neku begins to develop compassion for and the ability to empathize with others better. In the end, he has shown to have grown from being a selfish, unthoughtful loner into a compassionate, selfless and caring young man.
A few years prior to Neku's death, Neku's best friend tragically died in an accident. Claiming that his friend would still be alive had he not been on his way to meet Neku in front of a mural, Neku blamed himself for his friend's death. To cope with his mourning and guilt, Neku resolved to not let friends "drag him down" again.On the day of his death, Neku gets caught up in a gunfight between Joshua and Sho Minamimoto while admiring a CAT mural. After fending Minamimoto off, Joshua kills Reapers' Game and selecting him as proxy for the Game for Shibuya's fate.
On Day 1, Neku wakes up in the Scramble Crossing with no idea how he got there. He finds a Player Pin in his hand, and discovers that touching it allows him to hear the thoughts of others. After receiving the day's mission (reach 104), Neku is attacked by a horde of frog monsters and is forced to flee, unable to defend himself. Eventually, in front of the Statue of Hachiko, he is coerced into a pact with Shiki Misaki, who reveals that the monsters are called Noise and that they can be fought by Players with pacts using abilities called Psychs. After defeating the Noise, the newly pacted Players make their way to the 104 Building. Neku is irritated by Shiki, but she reminds him that they must stay together to survive the week. At the 104 Building, they meet Uzuki Yashiro, who creates a Grizzly Noise to attack them. This fails, and Neku is left confused and frustrated at the situation before falling asleep.
On Day 2, Neku and Shiki awaken in the Station Underpass and are told that they must defeat the Noise in the underpass to leave. Neku tries out various pins and discovers he can use every pin for a different Psych, making him a "Psych genius." Outside, they meet Beat and Rhyme, with whom Shiki discusses the Reapers' Game. Neku keeps to himself claiming he doesn't need them, which eventually angers Beat who leaves with Rhyme. Neku and Shiki then complete the mission, removing the curse from the Statue of Hachiko by defeating the Noise inhabiting it. After completing the mission Neku and Shiki are confronted by Uzuki, who offers Neku a "bonus round." Uzuki promises Neku that if he erases his partner that he will be able to escape the Game, but fails to mention that the escape from the game will come in the form of erasure. He decides to go through with the deal, but the outcome is not shown.
On Day 3, Neku wakes up and remembers how Sanae Hanekoma had intervened just in time to save the pair. After intervening, Hanekoma had stuck around to give some advice on the Game and the Fusion Pin. The mission for the day is to defeat the master of A-East, which ends up being completed by Beat and Rhyme. Shiki offers Beat and Rhyme a second chance at working with them. Neku, remembering Sanae's words, accepts, but under the condition they "don't get in his way."
On the sixth day, Neku helps Shiki overcome her jealousy of Eri granting Shiki new resolve to win the Game.
On the seventh and final day, Neku, Shiki, and Beat are the only Players left in the Game. The mission is to defeat the Game Master, Yodai Higashizawa. Upon learning that Beat is going to go after the Reapers alone, Neku and Shiki race to save him. The two meet Higashizawa, defeat him and win the Game. Afterwards, the two discover that Beat is still alive. Shiki is chosen to be revived, which she hesitates, but Neku tells her it's okay. Neku receives his entry fee for the first week, (most of) his memories, and is told that he must compete in the game again to be given another chance at life. He is horrified to discover his entry fee: Shiki.
Neku wakes up in Scramble Crossing at the beginning of the week, and realizes he needs a partner. He goes to the Statue of Hachiko in hopes of meeting somebody, only to be attacked by Noise again. Joshua makes a pact with Neku, and the two fight off the Noise. Neku is quickly irritated by Joshua's introverted and pessimistic behavior, but the two make it to 104 to complete their mission.
On the second day, Joshua requests that the two go to Cat Street, but Neku refuses to since he needs to complete the mission.On the third day, Neku receives a mission to go to Cat Street (that he later discovers is fake), and meets Hanekoma, who upgrades his phone. Over the next few days, since the new Game Master Minamimoto hasn't assigned any missions, Neku follows Joshua as he uses his new phone features to locate the Shibuya River. Meanwhile, Neku reads Joshua's mind and discovers some of his lost memories, and is led to believe that Joshua killed him.
On the sixth day, Neku finally receives another mission, and discovers an outbreak of Taboo Noise. He can choose to save some of the Reapers, including Uzuki and Kariya, from the Taboo Noise. He also tries to save Sota and Nao, but the two are erased.
On the seventh and final day, Neku and Joshua receive a mission to defeat Minamimoto at Pork City. When the two confront Minamimoto, Neku reads Joshua's mind again and discovers that Joshua didn't really kill him, but tried to protect him from Minamimoto while he was alive. After defeating him, Minamimoto fires a powerful beam at the two. Joshua steps in front of the beam and sacrifices himself (though it is later revealed he actually teleported to another world), and Neku wins the game. The game is considered null and void due to illegal intervention, and thus Neku is re-entered into another game. Neku is also informed that his entry fee from the null game would be carried over to the next one, so Shiki's life would still hang in the balance in addition to a new entry fee for this third game.
Upon waking up, Neku rushes to the Statue of Hachiko in order to find a new partner. He soon realizes that his final entry fee was the entire group of Players, leaving Neku to fend for himself, which all but ensures his loss and erasure. At the last minute, Beat, who is now a Reaper, rebels and makes a pact with Neku. The two make it to 104 to complete the first mission given by the new Game Master, Mitsuki Konishi. On the second day, Konishi gives them one mission to complete for the whole week: find and defeat Konishi.
Throughout the week, the two try to find Konishi but end up being sidetracked and can't find her. On the third day, Uzuki is made the Game Master for the day and plays tag with the two. When she is tagged, Uzuki gets angry and fights the duo before being stopped by Kariya. On the fourth day, the pair then fights Uzuki and Kariya as a team to receive a keypin. On the last few days, the two notice that everybody is sharing the same thoughts and have stopped moving. They are attacked by several brainwashed Reapers and a brainwashed Uzuki and Kariya.
On the final day, the pair goes to the Shibuya River, where Konishi appears from Beat's shadow. The pair fight and
defeat her, but the game is not over yet, confusing them. Continuing through the Shibuya River, Neku finds Shiki and Megumi Kitaniji, where Kitaniji brainwashes Shiki and fights Neku and Beat. Neku chases Kitaniji down further into the Shibuya River and fights him again with Shiki and Beat. After the battle, Neku finds Joshua, and discovers that Joshua really did kill him, asKitaniji absorbs Neku's three partners and prepares to fight Neku. Forming pacts with all three of his partners, Neku manages to defeat Kitaniji in his final form. He is then taken to a standoff between him and Joshua, which will determine the fate of Shibuya. While Neku wants to protect Shibuya, he cannot bring himself to shoot Joshua, whom he now trusts. Neku lets himself get shot by Joshua, supposedly sealing Neku's fate. Joshua, however, admires the trust that Neku holds in him and spares Shibuya. Neku wakes up in the Scramble Crossing, this time in the Realground, and meets with Shiki, Beat, and Rhyme a week later.
In the parallel universe of Another Day, Neku is much more optimistic compared to his "main" counterpart, stating his love for Shibuya and praying to the Lord for a great day. He also has "emo urges" and is a huge fan and skillful player of Tin Pin. He competes in a Tin Pin tournament, when all of the players but him have their pins taken. He decides to lie about losing his pins so he wouldn't be suspected. He then forms a team to find the missing pins.
In Pork City, he finds Hanekoma ascending the tower. Deciding to follow him, Neku reflects on his long lost friend, who is revealed to have died in an accident. It is also revealed that he blames himself for that accident. Upon reaching the top, Neku meets the main world version of Hanekoma, who challenges him to a fight before leaving.
- "You're so loud... stupid Noise."
- — Neku in the TGS Trailer
- "A boy who has been forced into the Reapers' Game. He wouldn't be caught dead without his headphones... and wants nothing more than to shut other people out. But Sora, and his other new friends, may have the power to change him."
- — Jiminy's Journal Entry
Neku makes an appearance in Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance in Traverse Town. Jesse David Corti reprises his role as Neku. After surprising Sora by appearing out of nowhere, Neku explains that he is a Player in the Reapers' Game, which takes place in Traverse Town. With Neku's timer running short and no partner at hand, Sora, who isn't following Neku's explanation, happily agrees to help anyways. Neku's Dream Eater is a Necho Cat, a brightly colored cat-like creature with a music note for a tail.
Neku and Sora act as allies for a short time, fighting the Nightmares together. Neku leads Sora to Traverse Town's Third District, where they encounter a man in a black coat. He makes a move to attack Sora, but Neku jumps in to defend him yelling "This isn't what you promised!" Sora is then unexpectedly plunged into sleep. When Sora wakes up, Neku is nowhere to be found.
Neku and Sora later meet up again in the Fifth District. Sora presents Rhyme to Neku, hoping that he may be able to jog her memory. Neku is unable to help, and Sora proceeds to fight Traverse Town's boss.
Joshua then appears by using Rhyme's dreams as a portal between the two parallel Traverse Towns (not to be confused with the real Traverse Town, as these two are dreams) and manages to reunite Neku and Shiki, as well as Beat and Rhyme. The Traverse Town story ends there until later revisited.
On the player's second trip to Traverse Town, Neku and Shiki face a tough mission; to defeat a Dream Eater so strong it is able to create more Dream Eaters. Sora meets up with the two, who face a pair of Dream Eaters (and also pass a puck between one another) Shiki wants to bail, stating the Dream Eaters are too strong, when Sora comes in to help them, to his slight dismay.
Neku later has a moment with Joshua, expressing his fear that he will never get back home. Joshua reiterates what he said to him in TWEWY, "If you give up on yourself, you give up on the world.". Neku thanks him for the words, and he hopes he can get back, too.
Shiki Misaki is Neku's first partner in the Reapers' Game. At first, Neku dislikes Shiki, acting coldly towards her and only staying with her to survive. He nicknames her "Stalker" because she follows him around wherever he goes. When Shiki talks, Neku generally only responds when he becomes irritated by her chatting. Early on, he seems to show little regard for her, as he is even willing to kill her when the Reaper Uzuki Yashiro offered him a way out of the Game in exchange for doing so.
Despite the incident, Shiki continues to treat him the same and does her best to understand him. As time progresses, the two develop a friendship as they become closer and open up to each other. When they spot Eri, Shiki's best friend in the RG who strangely looks exactly like her, Shiki starts to run from Neku, but he stops her and gets her to tell the truth about her past. Neku learns that she was not happy with who she was, and always felt jealous of Eri, so when she entered the game her entry fee was her appearance, teaching her that she shouldn't be jealous.
Through this experience, Shiki and Neku grow closer. When they learn that only Shiki will move on to the RG, and that Neku must play the Game again, Shiki states that she will wait in front of Hachiko everyday until Neku returns.
There is some amount of irony at the beginning of the second week when Shiki is taken as Neku's entry fee. While this is a bluff on the part of the Conductor — because only the Composer can restore life to Players — Neku finds the entry fee credible enough to stake all of his efforts on Week 2 on getting Shiki back, which possibly strengthened his feelings for her. Shiki is highly embarrassed when she finds this out at the end of Week 3.
In the ending, Shiki meets up with Neku, Beat and Rhyme in front of the Statue of Hachiko, as promised.
Neku first encounters Beat in Week 1 Day 2, where they get off to a rocky start. They meet again the next day, where Beat is reluctant to give them advice. However, at the end of Week 1 Day 3, Beat and Rhyme appear and save Neku and Shiki by completing the mission. Afterwards, they seem to be on good terms, and agree to work together for the rest of the week.
When Rhyme is erased the next day, Neku, Shiki and Hanekoma talk him out of fighting the shark Noise that attacked Rhyme. As he leaves with Hanekoma, Neku and Shiki agree to avenge Rhyme in Beat's place. He joins the Reapers at the end of Day 7, surprising both Neku and Shiki.
During Week 2, Beat is assigned by Megumi Kitaniji to defeat Neku and Joshua. He attacks and overpowers them a number of times, but never brings himself to erase them. Despite their misgivings, in one encounter Neku is compassionate enough to return Rhyme's pendant (which Beat had dropped the previous day) to him.
At the start of the third week, Beat chooses to leave the Reapers to become Neku's partner and save him from certain demise (being the only Player, Neku could not form a pact). As partners, the two become closer, and work together to survive the week, save Rhyme and attempt to dethrone the Composer. During their time together, Neku learns more about Beat's background, why he is in the Reapers' Game. In the final battle, Beat states that he no longer sees Neku as a partner but as a friend. Together, along with Shiki, they defeat Kitaniji in both his Noise forms.
In the ending, Beat and Rhyme both meet up with Neku and Shiki by Hachiko, and the friends are reunited.
Neku first encounters Rhyme in Week 1 Day 2 along with her partner Beat, where they get off to a rocky start due to Neku's anti-social attitude.
They meet again the following day, where Shiki asks them about the mission. Beat finds the situation with Neku awkward and leaves after calling Neku a piece of dirt with Rhyme tagging along behind him. Later that day, Neku and Shiki fail to complete the mission, and just as all hope is lost and with seconds to spare, Beat and Rhyme complete the task. In Week 1 Day 4, Rhyme jumps out and saves Beat from a Noise, the Swing Shark, sacrificing herself. Neku acts coldly and pretends not to be upset by the event, telling Shiki it is why he doesn't rely on anybody or want to forge relationships, as he ends up getting hurt.
Rhyme appears later in the form of a squirrel Noise as a Pin that Neku can use to fight the Noise. Despite the two not being shown together much, the two are shown interacting well in the game's final scene.
Neku finds Joshua especially irritating, as he often teases him and his snobby attitude tends to get on Neku's nerves. However, Neku, motivated by his desire to bring Shiki back to life, does everything he can to put up with him for the week. Despite their many disagreements, Neku finds that he can — in a number of ways — relate to Joshua. They have similar views of society and the world, which often come up in their conversations. This does gradually change however, as Neku's philosophy changes greatly over the course of their week together.
During the few days where no missions are issued, they make frequent visits to Hanekoma and his cafe WildKat, where it is revealed that Joshua and Hanekoma have a long history with each other. Joshua claims to be searching for a way into the Shibuya River so that he can take on the Composer and "jack" Shibuya, or, in other words, gain complete control over it.
Neku eventually becomes incredibly distressed when he scans Joshua and sees flashbacks of him dying in front of the mural in Udagawa, leading him to accuse Joshua of being his killer. Joshua neither confirms nor denies this throughout the week, and there is a great deal of tension between the two for the remainder of time they have together.
On the seventh day, when they battle the Game Master, Sho Minamimoto, Neku sees another flashback which leads him to believe that it was actually Minamimoto who had murdered him. After defeating him, Minamimoto unleashes a level i flare, and Joshua pushes Neku out of harm's way and takes the brunt of the attack, seemingly erasing both Minamimoto and himself.
Neku deeply regrets that he never got to apologize to Joshua for accusing him of murdering him, and feels guilty for his death. Allowed to play the Game one more time, Neku vows not to waste this chance which Joshua had managed to give him.
In the final day of the third week, Joshua returns after the fight with Megumi Kitaniji's Noise form, shocking Neku. Before they can talk to each other, Kitaniji absorbs Joshua and the final battle begins. Afterwards, Kitaniji is erased and Joshua reveals that he himself is the Composer and that everything that had transpired was part of a Game he had set up with Kitaniji - one that would ultimately decide the fate of Shibuya. Wanting to erase Shibuya, Joshua chose Neku as a proxy to play the Game for him - and he had won. He also returns what is missing of Neku's memories, revealing that Joshua had indeed murdered Neku, just to send him into the game.
Joshua has one final Game with Neku - a duel, in which the winner becomes Composer and gets to decide Shibuya's fate. They both receive guns and Joshua begins a countdown for them to fire. Tearfully, an enraged Neku aims his gun and prepares to shoot — however, in the end, he cannot bring himself to kill a friend, and lowers his gun. Joshua, however, smiles coldly and shoots Neku, supposedly erasing him.
Following the duel, Joshua has a change of heart and spares Shibuya, having observed the changes in Neku firsthand. Neku then wakes up at the Scramble again, only to tramatically realize that he is back in the Realground. In the ending, Neku wishes to see Joshua again, hoping he will show up at Hachiko with everyone else. He states that while he can't forgive him, he trusts him. Joshua does not arrive however, and watches the friends from atop 104 along with Hanekoma.
Neku is able to use many different pins that he finds to perform a variety of attacks. Other characters comment on his mastery of Psychs, indicating that this ability is unusual. This is further proven by the fact that Neku's partners can only use one pin at their disposal. Although he cannot use every pin in battle (Pins 246 through 261 being the most obvious exceptions), the wide selection of attacks adds to his unpredictability and therefore to his value in the Game.
Also, he is able to summon Noise despite not being a Reaper. He performed this while fighting Mitsuki Konishi in Week 3, Day 7 by summoning Rhyme's Noise form after all his other pins had been stolen by Konishi. Neku explains it to a surprised Konishi by saying that Rhyme is his friend and that she's not a noise.
Neku can perform powerful Fusion attacks, which have three levels, with his partners by using the Harmonizer Pin. He can also perform a Final Fusion attack, utilizing the power of all three of his partners (Shiki, Joshua, and Beat) combined, shown when he defeated the Conductor during the end of Week 3.
The kanji of Ne-ku Sakura-ba (桜庭 音操 Sakuraba Neku?) literally translate to: sound, manipulation, cherry, garden. This is likely to be a reference to the idea of Neku closing out the outside world with his headphones, ignoring the wonderful world ("cherry garden") around him, and his astonishing skill with psychs. Additionally, sound may refer to the music theme in naming the characters.
- "No one sees me. No one bothers me. No one expects anything of me. It's like a dream. Once I survive the seven days... does the dream end?"
- "I just met you. I don't like you. And I don't give a rat's ass if you think I'm rude!"
- "Full of fail, as usual."
- "And this is where this all goes to hell."
- "Then I wish I had more zippers... so I could tell you to zip it."
- "Don’t go the distance for other people. Do it for yourself."
- "Who needs friends! They just laugh and talk like idiots, and pretend to agree with you... So you end up caring about them... exposing yourself... getting HURT... Screw it! We're better off without them! You want people getting in your way? Dragging you down? I don't. And I never said we were friends. You did!"
- "Just back off! No one's my friend. Least of all you."
- "Is it true steroids can shrink your... Never mind."
- "The pig moves on its own? What if it's possessed - waiting to pork-chop us in the back of the head?"
- "Shiki's out. They made her my entry fee. Joshua too- took the bullet for me. Rhyme's gone. Noise got her. And Beat left to join the Reapers. One Player after another... gone... I'm the only one of us left — the only hope we have."
- "Then he died... protecting me? Why would he do that? ... I did this. I blamed him. He's gone because of me. I accused him of shooting me, but he was innocent! I made him feel like he owed me something. I didn't... I didn't trust him. My partner. I didn't even apologize. I'm the worst... I never told Joshua I'm sorry."
- "I can't forgive you, but I trust you."
- "Why... What the hell?!"
- "If we don't clash, we don't change... The World Ends at my Borders!"
- Watch yourself. - Begin battle
- You're good as gone! - Begin battle
- We up for this? - Begin battle at low HP
- I got this! - Catching the puck
- Any last words?! - Catching the puck at 5x power
- Be careful! - Partner recovering from knockdown
- I'm... I'm fading. - Game Over
- So, who's next? - Noise erased
- At least we won, right? - Noise erased at low HP
- That's how it's done. - ★-rank victory
- We'll get it next time. - E-rank victory
- Neku either has an extraordinary memory or is very intelligent, as on Day Two of Week Two he was able to give Joshua the square root of 3 up to the 7th decimal point. He also knew the periodic symbol for gold.
- The fate of Neku's third entry fee (every other player in the third week) is not revealed.
- In the Japanese version of the game, Neku's nickname in Another Day is "Dark Blue."
- Neku's personality is similar to Roxas, Sora's Nobody from Kingdom Hearts II. Also, Neku's hairstyle somewhat resembles Sora's hairstyle from Kingdom Hearts II, except without the giant sideburns. Neku's Japanese voice actor, Kōki Uchiyama, also voices Roxas and Ventus in the Kingdom Hearts series. All four characters were designed by Tetsuya Nomura.
Neku's name is very similar to the word "neko," the Japanese word for cat, which may relate to the name of Neku's favorite designer, CAT, and in Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, the Japanese name of his Dream Eater that follows him around is "Necho Cat."
- Neku was first seen in Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance in the TGS 2011 Trailer.
- In Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, when Neku first appears at Traverse Town, a remix of the Twister track plays.
- It is clearly unknown whether or not Neku can utilize every pin in the TWEWY universe, as some pins are not accessible to the game player, which includes the pins Neku's partners use.
- Neku is more independent than other players, he hates people and the only ones he likes are his Partners.
777 · BJ · Koki Kariya · Megumi Kitaniji · Mitsuki Konishi · Sho Minamimoto · Tenho · Uzuki Yashiro · Yodai Higashizawa
Ai · Eiji Oji · Eri · Ken Doi · Makoto Miki · Mina · Mr. Mew · Shuto Dan · Sanae Hanekoma
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